Final assessment of Tide safeties must wait

Perhaps Tide safeties coach Melvin Smith was thinking of the PGA Championship. On the other hand it could also be his admiration for Tiger Woods that kept his mind on the fairway when describing his players and how far they've come since spring camp. <br><br>"The thing about it is you never know how they're going to play in a game situation out there," Smith said. "I can see them on the practice tee, but I need to see how they play the course."

Smith, the most recent addition to Alabama's football coaches, spent 20 years in Mississippi before joining the rest of Franchione's staff in Tuscaloosa. In 2000 Smith led Mississippi State's secondary to the top of the SEC in pass defense and finished the season ranked fourth in the nation.

Coach Smith takes a moment with Roman Harper during warmups.

Despite his past success, Smith inherits young, inexperienced safeties. And with the departure of Reggie Myles and Shontua Ray, both of whom finished their eligibility last season, including Thurman Ward's move to wide receiver, there is much work to be done before the start of the season.

"Right now Waine [Bacon] is the No. 1 strong safety and Charles [Jones] is the No. 1 free safety," Smith said.

Smith named Tallahassee sophomore Carlos Andrews as the No. 2 strong safety and freshman Roman Harper from Prattville as the No. 2 free safety.

While the depth chart may be tentatively in place for now, the performance of the safeties will need to improve from last year. The Tide ranked sixth in the SEC for total yards per game allowed, allowing 368.6-yards per game (252.2-yards were passing yards). Florida led the SEC allowing a mere 278.2 total yards allowed in 2001.

Senior strong safety Bacon and junior Jones will be the veterans of the group that Smith is depending on to improve the defensive effort.

"My best description of Waine's [Bacon] situation is that we're trying to see if anyone can beat him out, and no one has so he's our No. 1," Smith said. "He's no Superman, but he's got the heart to do just about anything."

Bacon is a former walk-on, who earned a scholarship at the beginning of last season. He came off the bench versus UCLA in the season opener to play 71 snaps and became the starter the next week. One of the Tide's steadiest secondary players last season, Bacon finished as the team's third-leading tackler with 68 stops. He also added nine pass break ups. An excellent athlete, Bacon set the vertical jump record for a defensive back with a 42-inch leap.

Charles Jones peers at the scoreboard during game action last season.

Jones, who Smith deemed "steady," filled in the starting spot for Myles a few times last season and takes the practice field now as No.1 on the depth chart. Jones saw action in 10 of the Tide's 11 games last season and had a stretch of five games (UTEP, Ole Miss, Tennessee, LSU and Mississippi State) where he started. He played a total of 310 snaps, finishing with 32 tackles and three pass break ups.

Andrews, for now second team at strong safety, saw limited action as a true freshman in 2000 on special teams. He played a total of 14 snaps in the first two games last season, before a leg injury caused him to apply for a medical redshirt.

Harper, the winner of the ‘Ozzie Newsome Best Freshman Award' will back up Jones and according to Smith has the "size and speed" to become a force in the SEC.

"Roman [Harper] has a good future ahead of him," Smith said. "Tiger Woods is a technician; he really works on every movement and stroke that he makes. I love Tiger for that. He's great at technique. If Roman will buy into working on being a technician he will be absolutely tremendous.

"Chris James will also be in there too. I have five guys that can play and that is okay with me."


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